The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is equal parts beautiful, emotionally damaging, and incredible. I absolutely adored it. Because who doesn’t like a book that will nearly make you cry?? Obviously everyone loves that kind of thing. For sure. This story is gut-wrenching and precious and inspiring and hopeful and balances darkness and hope using some of the best storytelling I’ve experienced in a long time.
The story is about three protagonists: Dill, Lydia, and Travis. They all live in a tiny gossiping town that is smothering and suffocating them. Dill’s father was a preacher but is now in jail for being a peadophile. So basically everyone hates and distrusts him and he’s severely depressed. Lydia has a loving family but is about to leave town after highschool to pursue further education. Aka she’s leaving all her friends behind. Aka her friends that are not doing very well at all. Travis has an abusive family but he’s the sweetest most loving boy who is obsessed with a fantasy series and uses it as an escape. They all need each other. But everything is falling apart.
It’s a story of survival and friendship. Normally I don’t even like books narrated by three protagonists, because it’s confusing. But Dill, Lydia, and Travis were all so different and complex and relatable and heartbreaking that I loved them all. I can’t even choose a favourite!
Brief Overview Of The Characters:
- DILL: He’s the son of a preacher who’s just been imprisoned for sexual charges and EVERYBODY knows Dill and is disgusted by him. Tiny backwards town, remember? Not very forgiving. His mother hates him, school is hell, he’s got NO FUTURE because he’s stuck in this town and his best friend Lydia is leaving for college and basically he was tragic and adorable and quiet and nearly broken and I couldn’t love him more. He does lash out irrationally with passive-aggressive arguments with Lydia. But I get it?!? When you face losing someone, sometimes you push them away first to help dull the pain.
- LYDIA: she’s a super famous fashion blogger and only 17 #NoImNotJealousHaHaHa. She’s fashionable, super sassy, epically fabulous, definitely not skinny, and has a future of success paved out before her. I adored her relationship with her parents, too! The banter is hilarious and perfect. I love how she as flawed and flawless.
- TRAVIS: He was the most adorable dork to ever dork in the universe. He’s obsessed with fantasy, specifically this trilogy which he can’t stop talking about. He’s big and kind and unassuming and just downright lovely. Books about lovely boys need to be more of a thing. I adore how his love of fantasy started turning him towards writing, as an escape from his abusive household, and that was beautiful written.
The writing is also absolutely fantastic. It was heavily dialogue centred and balanced hilarious humour with poignant scenes. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even laughed out loud several times actually! (My dog looked mildly displeased at the noise.) And I loved the contrast of their lives: Dill slowly fading to nothing, Lydia being rich and full of purpose, Travis finding escape in writing.
“And anyway, how is a coffee shop Christian?”
“It implies that normal coffee shops are satanic.”
“Which they totally are. It’s like, can I please just get a cup of coffee without having to kneel before Lucifer and pledge my eternal soul?”
“Here’s your latte. Will that be cash, credit, or the blood of a virgin?”
It really tackles mental illness and it does so perfectly. Depression is not an easy topic and yet The Serpent King really captures the complexity of it.
The Serpent King is definitely an extraordinary book. I am of the loud opinion that everyone should read it. Immediately. It’s definitely a coming of age story about friendship and trying to figure out your future and what you want. It has romance, but it’s not overly romantic. The writing will sweep you along and it will, almost definitely, stab you in the chest one or nine times. It was brutal and hopeful which is a perfect combination.